The Gospel According to Harry Potter

I know of no story that has been so publicly denigrated in recent years by the Christian right than J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. By “recent years” I suppose I mean in the past decade. Here at the end of the series it seems like most of the seriously negative publicity has died off. That being said I know that in an awful lot of Christian circles (including my own church at times) Rowling’s books are considered a mere half-step above the work of Anton Lavey. This is, of course, because Harry Potter is a wizard. But what people continually fail to understand is that the magic of Harry Potter has absolutely nothing to do with the kind of witchcraft condemned by the Bible. Rowling’s magic is, in my mind, a metaphor for mystery, for all that is wondrous and glorious in the world and yet remains beyond our rational understanding. And what is more, the themes of Rowling’s books are deeply Christian. Her explorations of exclusion, racism, chosen-ness, grace, love, courage, heroism and redemption are almost all cribbed straight from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Which leads me to today’s post. Welcome to the first installment of The Gospel According to Harry Potter.*

Wherein we meet Vernon Dursley, aka the world’s biggest jerk…

“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 7).

Normal. It is the overcoming drive towards normalcy, the status quo, the mundane, the ordinary and everyday, that drives the social movement we call conservatism. Due to a relatively strange confluence of historical, social and political factors we live in an age in which Christianity is considered a conservative religion. But it hasn’t always been that way. There was a day when Jesus and his followers were considered threats to the status quo, rebels and renegades who consistently stood against the injustice of the established order. But the world doesn’t see us that way anymore. Now the world sees us as a great pack of Vernon Dursleys.

Vernon, or Uncle Dursley as he will soon come to be known, is a ridiculous, absurdity of a man. He is self-righteous, he is blustering, he is pompous, he is in short, a jerk. Imagine Polonius adjusted for inflation and driving an Audi through the streets of London. At every turn Dursley seeks to do only one thing: maintain the status of his family. And this is where our lesson about Christianity and conservatism takes shape.

As the name implies conservatism is an attempt to maintain an existing situation. The general tendency of truly conservative Christianity (I’m speaking more of socially conservative Christianity, but similar critiques could be leveled at some brands of theological conservatism) is to maintain the status of Christianity within our society. Unfortunately that’s not how Jesus himself approached the world. Read the Gospel of Luke in particular. In Luke Jesus stands in the tradition of the great 8th century prophets, condemning injustice, lifting up the poor and the downtrodden, and basically just scaring the piss out of the political and religious establishment.

One of the great dichotomies that Rowling will set up for us throughout the Potter series is between the Dursleys of the world and the Potters of the world. It is, in my mind, very much akin to the synoptics’ dichotomy between the pharisees and Jesus. One of the many questions we must ask ourselves as Christians is whether we are on the side of the established order or the side of the weak and the downtrodden. The fact of the matter is that we were never called to be the dominant religion of the world and we were never called to maintain our own wealth, power and influence. We were called to serve, to sacrifice and to die. Perhaps James the brother of Jesus said it best.

“This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of [our] God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, [and] to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1:27

*I originally intended to make this a weekly series, but what with Liam’s arrival and my more and more pressing need to finish my actual work (aka my thesis) the series is likely to be a little hit and miss to start with. Hopefully there’s more to come.

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12:36 AM…

Last night at 11:30 or so I was in a parking lot that was completely full. I’m sure if you’re imagining the lot in your mind’s eye you are seeing it properly. It is enormous. It caters to a strip-mall that contains several small retail stores, four restaurants, a multiplex theater…and one other store. On any other day one would assume that at 11:30 on a Friday night the hundreds upon hundreds of cars in this parking lot would belong to customers of the theater and the restaurants. I’m only guessing, but last night I’d be surprised if more than 15% of the cars in that parking lot belonged to patrons of any but one store. That store, that one other store, is Chapters. Of course it is.

Last night at 11:30 I went to Chapters in south Calgary to pick up my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.* I was there a full half-hour before the book went on sale. Jinny and I had long-ago pre-purchased our copy, so I went to the pre-purchase line to get my bracelet and then they sent me to the queue to pick up my book. It took me a little while to find the end of the queue. It snaked down the main aisle, through the magazine section, and then in and out of every row of books in the children’s section. That’s where the end of the line was when I got there. Thirty minutes later when they finally started giving people books I was right around the middle of the line. I have no idea how many people there were, but lets just say lots. By “lots” I mean hundreds and not dozens. And this is to say nothing of the many, many people who had not pre-purchased the book and were waiting in a different line to buy their copy that night. While I was in line I heard more than a couple of people express shock and amazement, and even some amusement, at the fact that so many people had come to a store in the middle of the night just to pick up a book.

Why is it that people in our culture believe that this kind of attention is perfectly reasonable for a club or a new movie, but ridiculous for a book? Say what you want about Rowling’s books, but they have done one wonderful and incredible thing for an entire generation (or two, or three)…they have elevated reading. This isn’t to say that kids didn’t read in my day, but they sure as hell didn’t stand in line for an hour at midnight to pick up a book. Harry Potter is a massive, almost overwhelming, cultural phenomenon. In my mind that’s a good thing.

I got my copy at 12:36 AM and was reading about thirty minutes later. And for the record, the first 17 chapters are fantastic.

*This is normally where I’d insert a hyperlink to Amazon or HP.com or something, but today there will be no hyperlinks. Logging on to Blogger to post is the very most I’m willing to do online until I’ve finished reading the book on the off chance that some bastard out there is posting spoilers where I might read them. Such people should be drawn and quartered.

Busy, Busy…

Sorry for the lax blogging, as the title of this post suggests, I’ve been busy. I’ve also been tired. I’ve also been on holidays. Consequently my poor little blog has suffered terribly. I suspect my readers have therefore been spared considerable suffering, but since this blog is really here to give outlet to my personal opinions and to help me practice writing well (something I think we can all agree I need rather badly), I don’t really care about that. I have nothing at all to say, so I thought I’d participate in Jon’s little iPod game for fun. Here’s today’s random 10:

1. Going Down/Love in an Elevator – Aerosmith
2. Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones
3. #41 – Dave Matthews Band
4. Under Pressure – Queen
5. My Favorite Mistake – Sheryl Crow
6. Suspicion – Okay, I have no idea who wrote or performed this song, and I’ve never heard it before. I had no idea it was in my iTunes or where it came from.
7. The Luxury – The Tragically Hip
8. Driving South – Jimi Hendrix
9. Glad All Over – The Beatles
10. Traveling With the Experience – Jimi Hendrix

Setting aside the Suspicion thing (where the hell did that song come from??), I must say that my list kicks Jon’s list’s ass. Can I say “Jon’s list’s” and not cause people to fall into a grammatical coma? But really, the Stones, the Beatles, DMB, Queen, Hendrix…my taste rules. Even Sheryl Crow and Aerosmith are legitimate picks I think. And just in case you think I got random lucky, here’s the top ten from my 25 Most Played:

1. Stone Cold Crazy – Queen
2. Don’t Panic – Coldplay
3. The Hounds of Winter – Sting
4. One of These Things First – Nick Drake
5. Hurts to Love – The Philosopher Kings
6. Caring is Creepy – The Shins
7. The Only Living Boy in New York – Simon & Garfunkel
8. Fields of Gold – Sting
9. Shape of My Heart – Sting
10. T.N.T. – AC/DC

Not bad at all if I do say so. Though I’m not sure how T.N.T. made #10. It’s a good rock anthem, like all AC/DC, but I don’t remember listening to it on my iPod…well, ever now that I think of it. Odd.

There you go, some more random nonsense to tide you all over until my next brilliant post. Cheers.